5 Tips Every Charity Needs to Improve Business

My first response to discovering that over 90 percent of charities want to begin trading was that while there is a huge degree of will, there must still be feasible ways for this to happen. Part of my response was coming from a programme I lead at the NCVYS or National Council for Voluntary Youth Services....

On behalf of a consortium called Catalyst, I worked with many different voluntary organisations to help them build their brand new enterprise activities.

What I found was that these enterprises often lacked the skills as well as the capital to begin trading. Besides this, charities that were looking to traditional means for buying their services still had a huge skill and knowledge deficit. This only served to put their market expansion on a dangerously precarious path.

I discovered that for both sides, the biggest hurdle was the cultural shift that they needed in their sectors to get both voluntary and public entities thinking it is all right to approach the social activity concept as a business. If this sounds familiar to you, keep reading. I provide five great tips for giving your enterprise a real chance at making it.

1. Do What You Know
Stick to trading using your existing skills. It will be far more effective and will save a good deal of time than learning new skills. You need to be able to take action on your great ideas. If you have to learn new skills on top of trying to take this action, it is just too much. You are already good at plenty of things to do what you already know how to do.  

2. Identify Who to Trade With

Before you look at the social issues that need to be cared for, identify what it is that you can trade. Consider how you can trade it and with whom you can trade it. This will allow you to achieve more success and be self-sustained. You just need to be realistic and think about the business of things first. 

Is there are market for your charity’s products and/or services? Are you confident that you have the means to reach your market.  Address the issue of why your customers should buy from you and not from someone else. Look at this drive from Amiqus

3. How Will You Measure the Impact You have?
An answer to this question might be  - your impact. You have to address the social issue at some juncture. If you need a kick-start financially, which is very likely, you need facts and figures together with a good story.

Read the Young Foundation’s Noticing the Change publication. Take note of how “A Framework of Outcomes” illustrates the importance of change and how it helps the process of making an impact. Build this process into the heart of your business. Do this if you really want it to be helpful to society. Doing this will also help you bring the facts and figures together easily. 

4. Model Your Business 
A great version of the best business model for social entrepreneurs comes from the Young Foundation. If you are still working on your idea phase, you may not yet be ready for its Accelerator Programme. That is fine. You may want to start with the Business Model Generation book. A less expensive option is to use the companion website. 

At the very least, this is the best information to use for modelling your business to get it started. It will allow you to focus on all the right areas and both the programme, book, and website include workable exercises with real-world examples of success.

5. Leave the Formation of Legal Structure for Last
Work with the modelling process and your own ideas first. Once you get the formation together then you can start things up. Leave the legal business structuring for last. You need to be sure you have considered all possibilities and test your idea before you can etch the business formation in stone.

When you do start to form ideas for the business’s structure get legal advice. Then retool anything that needs it before committing to a legal structure. You can put your social mission into your company’s constitution no matter what business structure it has. 

This list is not complete and it cannot guarantee success. These tips have, however, shown me that business and social are not mutually exclusive terms.

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